Alex Bono gave up the goal. Last Tuesday, in the 72nd minute of the opening leg in this year's Concacaf Champions League final, the Toronto FC goalkeeper was fingertips away from deflecting Alan Pulido's curling free kick on its path to the back of the net.

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That strike provided a winning margin for Chivas de Guadalajara, and pushed the crucial tiebreaker to a pair of away goals. It was a rare mistake from a promising 'keeper who's provided stability at the back throughout Toronto's treble run.


Dealing with mistakes is part of every goalkeeper's job. What separates the best in the world from the rest of us is that they minimize not only the amount of mistakes made but also don’t let one bad performance turn into two, three or four bad performances in a row.


Bono’s challenge after Tuesday is to digest what happened, learn from it, and then move on. He told reporters after the game: “On the second goal, I made a mistake. That's on me. I let my guys down … I'm not going to sit here and make an excuse about that (the wind). It's something I have to own up to and work on in training, get ready for next time.”


Pulido's Free Kick


When Alan Pulido stepped up to the ball, Bono knew it was going to be a right-footed inswinging shot or cross. With an inswinger, it’s not uncommon for the attacker to whip in the ball toward goal at about head height. It’s a nightmare ball for any goalkeeper to deal with.


You can’t come and claim it because players are obstructing your path as they run against your goal, and any slight flick can lead to a goal. Therefore, you must be aggressive and ready to attack the ball as it’s sent into the box. Sometimes you take a couple steps forward, toward the front of the goal, to be able to pounce before the ball arrives at the scrum.


It’s a calculation every goalkeeper must make: Sometimes you stay back and know that you can’t get to the cross; other times you move forward and acknowledge the perfect shot might catch you. Bono took a step too far forward this time.


In a perfect world, Bono would have been a few steps back towards the middle of his goal. That happy medium between the two posts would allow him to deal with both a shot or cross more effectively, regardless of its destination (near or far post). Additionally, with a more neutral position, Bono would have needed just one step backwards to tip the shot to the far post over the bar.

Goalkeeper Analysis: Can Alex Bono recover to meet the CCL moment for TFC? - https://league-mp7static.mlsdigital.net/images/4-24-CCL-pulidoscreen.png

If Bono were more central, he would have been in a better position to make the save


The Semifinal Stop vs. Paul Aguilar


Yet one mistake shouldn't define Bono's tenure. Over the past few seasons, it's seemed every time Toronto has needed a big save or play Bono has been there to make it. This was never more apparent than the five first-half saves he made in April 10's 1-1 draw against Club America in the second leg of the CCL semifinal, specifically the 28th-minute stop on Paul Aguilar.

If David De Gea or Manuel Neuer were to make that save, it would be talked about by football fans around the world as one of the saves of the year. This save is that good – and I’d venture to say as good as any save I’ve ever seen, in any game, in any league around the world.


There is one key moment in that play that leads to Bono making the save: His decision to take his eyes off the cross and turn them to Aguilar at the back post. This may sound counter-productive, but it was the most important part of the play.

Goalkeeper Analysis: Can Alex Bono recover to meet the CCL moment for TFC? - https://league-mp7static.mlsdigital.net/images/sdtivIlLxHw0SQm7fls0Osw-(1).png

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At this point, Bono has switched his attention from the ball to Aguilar/the back post area


Here's a front view:

Goalkeeper Analysis: Can Alex Bono recover to meet the CCL moment for TFC? - https://league-mp7static.mlsdigital.net/images/4-24-bono-eyeballfront.png

Another angle showing Bono has already shifted his concentration from the ball to the back post


Bono’s decision to take his eyes off the ball and focus them onto the attacker allowed him to anticipate Aguilar’s impact on the ball almost precisely. As a result, Bono could set his feet at the exact moment necessary. When a goalkeeper can set his feet properly, he can shift his weight forward to an athletic stance, allowing him to be react to the incoming shot quickly in any direction.

Goalkeeper Analysis: Can Alex Bono recover to meet the CCL moment for TFC? - https://league-mp7static.mlsdigital.net/images/4-24-bono-setposition.png?PwNVSOW1tn0abF7NYzTkKcU9FXIq6a3E

Bono set, with his weight forward, hands at his side, ready to make the save


As the header came towards goal, Bono adjusted his body and pushed off back the way he just came – I can’t tell you how difficult this is to do – and palmed the ball away from danger.


One Game: For redemption, for history


Each professional faces moments in their career that dictate their path. At the start of 2017, one presented itself for Bono when Clint Irwin went down injured with a hamstring strain in Week 1. Bono managed to make the most of it, cementing his status as Toronto’s No. 1 'keeper. As the second leg of this CCL final approaches, Bono's likely facing another.


For the Reds to lift the trophy, they need Bono at his best – just as he has been throughout the competition. “He has kept us in this tournament with some of the saves that he's made,” said defender Drew Moor after Leg 1. “I tell him to continue to be [himself], continue to be positive, put that one behind because we're going to need him in Guadalajara.”


Bono hasn’t been one to back down from challenges in his career to date, giving little reason to think he would shrink from the current moment. And if he finds himself again playing up to his talent, then Toronto FC will have as good a chance as any to walk away from Guadalajara as Major League Soccer's first CCL champions.




MATTHEW PYZDROWSKI is a current professional player, in his 9th season, currently as the No. 1 goalkeeper with Varbergs BoIS in the Swedish Superettan. He has previously spent time with the Portland Timbers, Angelholms FF, and Helsingborgs IF. Prior to turning professional he starred on the men's soccer team for the Marquette Golden Eagles. A current columnist for HOWLER Magazine.

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